Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bikes for Books!

Saw this post yesterday on Publicola.  The Fremont branch of the Seattle Public Library (sponsored by the Fremont Doric Masonic Lodge #2)  is running a contest to get kids to read more.  For every three books a child (grades 1 - 3) reads, his or her name is entered in a drawing for a free bike, lock and helmet.  The drawing will be held on June 5, with one boy and one girl winning. 

I think that this is an awesome encouragement to get kids reading, and what better way to start off the summer than with a new bike!

Friday, March 26, 2010

A girl. A bike. A love.

It started out with tears.  When I stepped over my red and silver Jamis Aurora the other day and realized that where there used to be over an inch of space between my tender girl parts and the top tube there was now some negative space - enough to hurt.  WTF!?  Legs don't shrink.  Bikes don't grow.  Again - WTF?!  The next moment I felt like a traitor as the thought of possibly having to get a different bike rushed through my head.  I looked at my trusty little fire engine of a bike (she thinks she's a fire engine- really) and out poured the tears.  And I'm not a crier.  Not usually anyway - but this whole new bike thing - it's doing me in.  I get attached to my bikes.  Especially the good ones - the ones who have taken me places I didn't know I could go and let me sing my crazy up hill songs to them as we crawled along at a snails pace - never judging me along the way.  The Aurora has been that kind of bike.  A good bike.  But...

I got sick, had some crazy life shit flung at me and in the process gained 35 pounds that have stuck to me like glue no matter what I do and I am limited in what I can do - that illness again.  All this happened since I bought the Aurora. And my feet grew.  That's where the shrinkage came about, come to find out.  My feet flattened out a size to a size and a half worth and down I went to where my bike's top tube no longer plays nice.  Add to that that I still can't go longer than about 20 miles without my wrists screaming in protest.  The fit just isn't there anymore. I looked at my bike that fateful day last weekend and cried.  Mark came out of the store to see me crying when just before I was all "happy go lucky we're running errands by bike happy".  I told him about the top tube and my girl parts having a meeting when they shouldn't have.  All those plans I had been dreaming up to try and get the handle bars further back towards me and higher to help the wrists - they seemed pointless now.  I covered the outside of the handlebars of my bike as if covering a child's ears and mouthed to Mark, "I might have to look for a different bike."  Then I cried some more.

What started out as a simple errand run in our own neighborhood turned out to be a day of riding to one bike shop after another around Seattle.  This has continued into the week as well.  It took me all day and then some to stop waffling and trying to convince myself I could make the Aurora work.  And I had tears stinging my eyes more than not throughout the day.

I experienced a wide range of service too. There was the not listening to me at all type service while rattling off lots of terms that might have been meant to impress me with their lofty knowledge, but didn't. My husband is a bike geek.  I can handle all the bike terminology and if it goes to far I start threatening to rattle off all the plants animals and minerals in Latin.  I'm a nature geek.  I can play ball.  I'm also not afraid to call someone on this sort of thing and I can be very blunt while doing so.  I whipped that particular salesperson into shape rather quickly when I started asking him to explain terms in detail - and he couldn't, so he shut up and did what I asked and stopped arguing with me.

Then there was the incredible service from a couple shops that deserve mention.  Our first stop along the rout last weekend was at Elliot Bay Bicycles - home of the Davidson Hand Built Bicycles  and a good stock of various other bikes.  Bill Davidson was the one to help me and help me he did.  I was still in emotional turmoil and rolling back and forth between trying to make the Aurora work and getting a different bike.  The first thing he did after I told him my troubles was look at me and ask me, "Where are your gloves?", and in an almost scolding fatherly voice, at that.  I looked at him and told him I wasn't cold, in fact I was sweating!  He looked at me a moment doing a damn good job at not shaking his head, rolling his eyes or snorting at me.  Then he made me follow him and pointed out the gloves he can't live with out.  The kind of gloves that help with wrist pain - the kind of gloves I had up to this point ignored because of my tiny little hands and how uncomfortable they are.  Not the kind of gloves meant to keep your hands warm, by the way, but Spenco Ironman gloves that actually were comfortable even two sizes too big.

Bill proceeded to give me my options.  He wrote down everything I could do with my current bike to make it better in the mean time and even fixed a couple things right then and there to make the rest of that days ride a little easier.  He showed me what to look for in a bike for a better fit and had me test a sporty little Bianchi Brava to get a feel for a shorter top tube length and different handlebars and brakes - and oh those brakes - I was in brake heaven!  He put my more comfortable seat on the Bianchi for my test ride too.  He did all this without belittling me in any way. Take note, bike shop peoples, THAT is service.  If ever I have the funds to pour into a custom bike build - Bill Davidson is my guy.

We were off for an organic lunch at the Fremont PCC before I had my second awesome service experience of the day at Free Range Cycles.  I've always liked this bike shop and most often when I have gone in to get something or to look at options or just peruse the latest bikes and gear I've been greeted by some rockin' ladies who know their bike stuff.  Those ladies must have stuck the guys on bike shop duty that day and were off riding in the glorious weather, no doubt.  But the guys were great too.  At this shop I tried out a newer and smaller framed version of the Aurora and then for something completely different, I tried a Soma Buena Vista mixte.  This is where the service went from good to great.  The Soma had a very long stem on it and the guy helping me went and put a shorter one on it for me so I could get a better feel for the fit of the bike.  See?  Awesome service.  The Soma was a fun ride and it helped me finally rule out the kind of handlebars that I was hoping might make the Aurora more comfortable.  I knew I wouldn't want to do longer rides with those handle bars it felt all whacked out in my shoulders.  They would be great for the sub 15 miler errand and farmers market runs - but not for the long rolling hill countryside rides that I long for more of.  Not for me anyway.

I left Free Range with time to hit one more shop and test a couple more bikes before places were closing up for the day and it was time to make our way back home to West Seattle.  One evening this last week I picked up Mark from work and headed to yet another shop where I tested a couple more bikes bringing my total test rides to 7 so far.  The best fit up to this point was with a Marin Portofino.  I'm keeping it in mind but after a lot of soul searching I'm going to spend some time this weekend looking for a more classic style frame that I could customize just the way I want it and give an old bike new life.

As I finish up this post I am still waiting to hear back about a 80's Peugeot mixtie on Craigslist that caught my fancy.  Oh the things I've dreamed up for that bike and I don't even know if it is still available or if it will be a good fit.  But somewhere out there the universe has the perfect bike waiting for me and a good home for my trusty fire engine "Bike-Bike" Jamis Aurora.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bicyclists: Leading our "dance" with traffic

Following up yesterday's post on commuting by bike, I thought I'd put this up for you all.  Keri at Commute Orlando has put together this great 5 minute video on cycling in traffic.   It's a great, positive spin on the topic.


Bicycling in traffic is a dance you lead from Keri Caffrey on Vimeo.

Hat tip to Seattle Likes Bikes for this one!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bicycle commuting: Getting Started Riding

Last year, I wrote two posts about getting started commuting by bicycle.  The first post looked at it purely from the equipment end of things -- your bike and accessories.  The second post looked at the issue more in terms of logistics and practicality.  Since then, I've not re-visited the topic of bicycle commuting.  With spring around the corner, gas prices creeping past the $3 per gallon mark in Seattle, and the bicycle commuter challenge in Seattle coming up in just a couple of months, it is high time I did.

This post will move from the major planning considerations into actually riding that commute.

First, a note about safety.  Reading blogs and news stories (and their comments) online, one common theme is that people feel unsafe riding in traffic.  It is true that we mix it up out there with masses of steel weighing many times more than we do on our bikes, but that does not mean it is unsafe.  Safe, predictable riding behavior, as well as intelligent route selection helps to reduce the risk a cyclist faces when riding amongst motorists.  In 2007, the most recent year in which I could find data, there were 7 cyclist fatalities (reference) in Washington state, as opposed to 567 general traffic deaths, which includes both those in car as well as those not traveling in cars (reference).

Get educated.  Find a group that will teach you the ins and outs of riding in traffic.  Learn how traffic laws apply to cyclists (take a good deal of time on this, few people, police included, really know this stuff).  In Seattle, for instance, the Cascade Bicycle Club offers commuting classes during leading up to and during bike month as a way to help people make the shift to bike commuting.  Also in Seattle, Spokespeople meets once a month for a leisurely ride on routes linking various neighborhoods in the city.  The goal of these rides is to help riders learn how to move through our streets safely and in a way that allows you to coexist safely with motorists.  Look up a local cycling club and see what they offer in the way of training or pointers.  Very often clubs will have rides geared for new cyclists which will focus on riding the roads, mixed in with the car traffic.

Use smart route planning.  Chances are, the route you take to get to work, whether you drive or bus, is not the best route to bike.  In fact, in some places, it may be illegal.
  • Look to resources that are available through your city or county transportation departments.  They often provide cycling route maps.  
  • Use online resources such as MapMyRide or discussion forums from local bike groups to find routes that others have scouted that take you to work.  Google has just added a bike layer to their popular Google Maps service.  This latest addition, announced yesterday, has the bike blogging community abuzz with excitement (seriously, I've seen no less than a dozen different posts about it in my news reader since Tuesday night!).  
  • Look for bike paths, multi-use paths or bike lanes that take you where you need to go.
  • Look for parallel side streets along your usual route that provide lower speed or traffic-calmed roadways.  In many areas, just one or two blocks off of high-traffic arterial streets there are streets with lower speed limits and lower traffic counts.  These streets can be much more of a joy to ride than the arterials.  In fact, some communities are creating "Bike Boulevards" out of these roadways to encourage safer cycling and walking.
Find a riding partner with whom you can commute.  An experienced bicycle commuter can provide valuable insight on traffic in your area, and the practicalities of getting around by bike.

Now, pick an enjoyable route, dust off your bike, and take a ride.  When you're ready, tackle that ride to work!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Community Transit cuts service, raises fares

So, if we wanted to take the bus to see, say my sister and her family on a sunny summer Sunday this year, we'd be out of luck.

Community Transit, the transit system that serves Snohomish County, is implementing service changes that will cut routes and services beginning in June.  Some key points of the plan:

  • Increase fares 25 cents across the board
  • Suspend Sunday and holiday service on all routes
  • Reduce frequency of many routes, including reducing some routes to two round-trips daily!
  • Start and end many routes at park & ride lots, rather than on city streets
  • Cut routes, including many that have alternative transit options, or duplicate existing service
  • Provide $50,000 to local agencies to provide transportation assistance to those in need.
 According to the information that Community Transit has provided (linked above), this is in response to a budgetary shortfall, a pretty common problem across all transit systems these days.  They also state that they have been trying to avoid service cuts such as these for over two years.

To me, the cuts will not help the overall health of the transit system.  It will impact many who can least afford the impact.  There are people out there who use the bus to get to work on the weekends.  In fact, many in service jobs (which are traditionally are not very high paying jobs) work on weekends.  Not all of these people have a car or can afford one. 

They are also forcing more cars onto the roads at a time when our roadways are becoming more and more choked with traffic.  An early morning run to Boeing is being cut.  What are the workers who ride that bus going to do?  They'll have to either form vanpools (not always an easy thing to coordinate) or drive themselves.

A quote from another news item about these changes:
“In my 18 years as an elected official, this is the hardest vote I’ve ever had to take,” said board member and Lynnwood City Council President Ted Hikel. “I don’t know anyone on this board or this staff who likes this, but there are realities out there – there just isn’t any money.”
As much as I dislike this news, and think it will only serve to hurt lower-income users of the system, as well as force more people back into their cars, the Frequently Asked Questions make it clear that the board looked hard at alternatives before settling on this as a means to reduce their operating losses.  With much of the funding for transit coming out of taxes, the options available are limited without legislative action, and in the current economic climate, anything to eek out more funding through taxes and fees is a hard sell.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

ACTION NEEDED - Vulnerable User-friendly language in bill before the Senate

I received this from Dave Hiller at the Cascade Bicycle Club today:

Dear Mark,

Two weeks ago, we watched as the Vulnerable Roadway User Bill died on the Senate calendar. Today, however, hope is alive. SB 5838 may be officially dead, but the law's language is being kept alive as an amendment to HB 3001.

Lawmakers from every corner of the state need to know you care about this issue.

Tomorrow at 5pm is the final cutoff in Olympia in this year's short legislative session. It's our last chance to pass HB 3001. Developed by the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, the bill expands bike and pedestrian safety education in traffic schools for bad drivers. It also includes our Vulnerable User Bill in an amendment.

Please call 1-800-562-6000 today. Ask your senator to vote for House Bill 3001. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the house - let's not let it die, too.

It's too late for an email. Please take a minute to call the legislative hotline and leave this message: "Senator, please support House Bill 3001 and the leadership amendment."

Cascade Bicycle Club is in Olympia, working hard to build support for the HB 3001. We need your help today to get it passed.

Thank you,
Please call the legislative hotline at the number above and encourage your legislators to support the bill AND amendment. It is important to encourage both the Senate and the House to support this bill. If the bill passes in an amended state, it will go back to the House for approval, and the House members need to know how you feel.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Ups and Downs of Alternative Errand Running

While on foot one lovely day this weekend, Mark and I had pleasant walk up the hill to run errands.  We stopped and smelled (and photographed) the flowers.

Admired the garden sculptures.

Said hello to a crow or two.

And had an other wise happy time.

We went to the library, grocery store and pet store.  Very productive with heavy packs to show for it.  On the way down we enjoyed the view of Puget Sound and The Olympic Mountains and took a short cut.  A quieter little side street, that was significantly steeper.  With wet washed aggregate sidewalks.  This is where the "Downs" came into play and literally at that.  One minute I was looking around with a smile on my face listening the happy chirps of birds and watching plum blossoms float through the air and the next I was attempting the half splits with a loaded backpack.  All of my weight and that I was carrying came down on one knee.  All the while my other leg tried to continue its impatient journey down the hill.  The results?

I was not very happy.  Wasn't I too old for scraped knees and severely bruised (thank goodness it wasn't shattered) knee caps?!  I sat a while to contemplate this and to get a more even breath back.

Then came the fun part of making my way the rest of the way down the hill - in the road where there was no washed aggregate.  (WHO thought this slippery material would be a good choice for steep sloped sidewalks in the very wet pacific northwest?!)

My gaping wounds and pouring blood got me plenty of attention.  One young child and his toddler little sister were standing next to the sidewalk a little further along waiting for their dad to finish getting things out of the car.  When the little boy saw me coming, maybe 20 feet away or a little more, his face went pale, eyes got big and he yelled out "WHY?" very loudly - he was mortified!  The father was trying to get there attention and hadn't seen me yet, as I walked up along side them I mentioned that the boy was a bit preoccupied by my scraped knee.  When the dad saw it, he smiled.  "Oh, yeah, he just got one of those, himself, recently."  Poor kid.  The sight of my knee brought the whole experience tearing back into his mind.  Maybe a first lesson in empathy?  A little further along some other neighbors looked over the fence and offered me band aides.  But we were close to home now and I was looking so forward to getting gravel out of my knee and pouring witch hazel over it. Oh, yeah.